Courtesy of Anthony Ameen
A decorated Hospital Corpsman in the US Navy from 2002 through 2010, Anthony Ameen served in 2nd Battalion/7th Marines - 1st Marine Division. In 2008, his life took an unexpected turn. After running to save the life of a wounded Marine in a counterattack, Ameen was severely wounded.
"I stepped on an IED," Ameen recounts. "The amount of pain I felt that morning was so intense, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. What broke my heart more than being injured was how I was treated as a wounded veteran. I was heartbroken, lying in a hospital bed. I couldn't walk or do anything."
As a Hospital Corpsman, his job was to render medical care to the wounded warriors. In the process of doing that, Ameen became a wounded veteran himself. "During my recovery, I was stubborn, I was argumentative, but it was because I knew what they were supposed to be doing to me," Ameen explained. "And in the midst of that hopelessness, I was being denied the financial and healthcare benefits that I so bravely fought for."
Ameen is not alone. According to the New York Times, "an Obama administration review revealed significant and chronic systemic leadership failures in the hospital system." In fact, as a USA Today report noted, "the Department of Veterans Affairs doled out more than $142 million in bonuses to executives and employees for performance in 2014 even as scandals over veterans' health care and other issues racked the agency."
Ameen, a Phoenix native, has made it his mission to get wounded veterans the help they deserve. In 2010, he started Wings for Warriors, which has since assisted over 1,200 wounded warriors with healthcare and financial benefits counseling. It has also helped over 300 military families with travel assistance nationwide.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization receives the majority of its support from donors and volunteers in Phoenix, Arizona and in the cities surrounding Hudson Valley, New York.
"There are families out there that are suffering, that are reaching out to me, who don't have the money, resources or means to better their lives," Ameen said.
"When they call me, they say, 'These are all the benefits I know of. Are there any others I can be helped with?' So I listed three or four more, and a month later, they called and told me, 'Just so you know, I was awarded the benefits because of your help.' And that makes me feel really good."
Their families have also benefited by support in travel costs, healthcare advocacy, counseling veterans on resources to use and informing them of their benefits.
Wings for Warriors also assists eligible veterans with obtaining health care and financial benefits from the Veterans Health Administration. As Ameen can attest, this is no easy feat. "Billions and billions of dollars being spent the wrong way and veterans are not getting the care that they need, including myself," he explained. "So, I think for me in a weird way it's gone full circle."
"It was very difficult for my family and I during this time because of the multitude of surgeries I was undergoing, and combined with the medication I was on, and even with a case manager representing me, I somehow managed to fall through the cracks," Ameen testified.
As a consequence, for two years, he had no Social Security benefits, even though he was an amputee. He eventually sought congressional representation to receive his Social Security back pay. Ameen used a portion of the Social Security Back Pay to create Wings For Warriors and help other wounded veterans and military families who are facing similar challenges and struggles.
Eligibility requirements for Wounded Warrior assistance vary, as supporting documents are required from the branch of service a veteran served in.
Ameen further explains: "If you were medically discharged from the Navy or Marine Corps, they have to look at that medical documentation; then you are given a percentage, which equals what they feel you are owed."
According to Ameen, you have to contact your local VA, then you have to get a case manager, then a primary care physician and finally they put you in front of a board run by the Veterans Health Administration. "Then you are notified the percentage, which varies from ten to a hundred," he said.
Ameen understands this process inside and out, but he sees room for great improvement. "I'll continue to fight for veterans' healthcare advocacy rights," Ameen said, "because I know the system is flawed, and that they need, and deserve, someone like Wings for Warriors."
If you would like to support Wings for Warriors, please visit wingsforwarriors.org.